Some cancers and cancer treatments may cause changes in the body’s normal mechanisms to control bleeding (Low blood cell counts: Side effect of cancer treatment.1 Cancer treatment can temporarily lower the platelet count. These are blood cells that help clot the blood.1 If the platelet count is low, the person may be at risk for significant bleeding from very small injuries. Alternatively, sometimes the blood becomes too thick and clots excessively.1 Blood clots may collect in the lower legs or travel to body organs such as the brain, heart and lungs.
A patient at risk for bleeding problems should avoid activities that can result in hemorrhage if they are injured in falls and other traumatic injuries. Blood clots occur most typically in certain types of cancer, in actively growing cancers and in individuals whose mobility is limited. Risk can be reduced by drinking lots of fluids and, if sitting for long periods, getting up and walking around.
What patients can do
Teach patients who are at particular risk for bleeding problems ways they can cope. They will not necessarily feel any differently if their platelet count has dropped but can learn some of the warning signs of a low platelet count (thrombocytopenia). These include:
- easy bruising
- small red spots (petechiae) on the arms and legs
- bleeding from the gums when brushing teeth
- unusually long or heavy menstrual periods
- sudden onset of severe headache, with or without limb weakness
Signs of blood clots:
- swelling of the lower legs, often on one side only, with or without pain in the leg muscle or under the knee
- difficult or painful breathing
- pink secretions from the lungs when coughing
Steps to keep the body healthy when the patient has a low platelet count, recommended by the Mayo Clinic’s Low blood cell counts: Side effect of cancer treatment:1
- Eat a balanced diet.
- Avoid injuries.
- Avoid germs.
Modify work tasks:
- Ask that others do tasks that involve a higher risk of physical injury.
- Request safety equipment suited to the job.
Modify the work environment to reduce risk of falls:
- Remove clutter, loose cords and wires from the workspace.
- Ensure adequate lighting in all workspaces.
- Keep floors free from spilled liquid.
- Eliminate uneven flooring surfaces.